I’m So Scared That I’m Laughing


Nine more days until the nice neurosurgeon and the lovely ENT drill a hole in my head to carefully, slowly, delicately take out the tumor that is trying to strangle my facial nerves and knock me on my butt.

I’m scared. I do NOT want to be out cold for 8 or 9 hours while people are poking around in my brain. I do NOT want to be stuck in a big, loud, brightly lit, big city hospital for four or five days. I do NOT want to be in pain.

I’m scared.

But I am taking the sage advice of my older brother, who is powering through cancer treatment with the attitude that “it is what it is, and all will be well.” I am channeling the courage and strength of my friend Fran, a young mom who is dealing with breast cancer treatments by facing it directly and looking forward to having it behind her.

And I’m leaning on my sister, who is always hilarious. She has the most wonderful gallows humor that lifts her through life’s many struggles.

Therefore, let me tell you a few things about being an overweight, clumsy old woman with an acoustic neuroma. First of all, I have named him “Stanley.” I want to personalize him, and I want to make him something that is separate from me and my own personal body. Stanley seems like a good name for someone annoying, frustrating and slightly toxic. Someone who has been bugging you for years but who won’t go away.

On Aug. 5 we will send Stanley on his merry way and finally be free of him.

I am also choosing to look at the hilarious side of my wonky, wobbly self. Picture this: in the middle of an average day, when I am thinking about dinner and not about Stanley, I calmly reach into my dryer to pull out the clean clothes. WHOMP. I suddenly and unceremoniously tip over and land on my knees in my laundry basket. Oopsie. Nothing hurts, so what can you do except laugh?

I reach down casually to pull some weeds out of my garden. Same deal. WHOMPIE. I end up with a marigold up my nose. Could be worse, to quote my dear departed Momma.

I see myself walking down the hallway in my house, bonk on the right wall, bonk on the left. Sheesh. I am walking like a drunk and it’s 10 AM. Even my dogs look judgemental. What are you gonna do, right? It’s funny!

It’s funny to wake up in the middle of the night and wonder why someone is honking a car horn in this rural spot, and to realize that the sound is inside my head. It’s even funnier when everyone reacts to a sound and I say, “Oh, you mean that isn’t my brain?”

This will also be quite a learning experience, right? I studied a bit of brain anatomy and neurology many years ago when I was a grad student in speech/language pathology. It was cool to go over my MRI with the doctors. I look forward to seeing scans after Stanley moves out.

I’m also making plans for after the surgery. I am determined to get back to my old self as soon as possible. They say that recovery from this can take months, but I am looking to speed it up. In my effort to do that, I am doing a LOT of vestibular stimulation through my physical therapist. This means that at various times (like waiting in line for an amusement park ride with my grandkids) I stare at one spot in front of me and slowly swing my head from left to right and up and down. I look like an escapee from a local asylum.

It gives me lots of space in crowds, but it’s a little embarrassing. At least for my family. I don’t personally care how I look. I gotta get Stanley out and get back to life!

I am spending these next few days trying to relax. I am distracting myself with the sweet antics of bunnies and chipmunks in the yard. I am spending time with the people I love most dearly. Next week we’re having a “Bye, Stanley” party to celebrate and send him off. I hope to get to the ocean, my most healing and soothing place.

If you have any funny stories to share, please do! Stories about your own wobbles and wonkiness or about a friend’s experiences. Anything.

I have to laugh for nine more days.

After that I plan to moan, groan and demand that everybody baby me for a couple of weeks.

Caught in Amber


Photo by Natalia Soto on Unsplash

Waiting is such a difficult thing. I have been waiting for weeks to have surgery that will hopefully relieve some of the symptoms I am having from an acoustic neuroma. I don’t know how hard the surgery will be (How long will I be unconscious? How difficult will the microsurgery be? What complications might appear?) I don’t know what I will be feelings after it’s over. (How nauseous will I be? How manageable will the pain be? How long will it take before I can come home? Will I be safe to walk on my own?)

I was lucky; my surgery was scheduled only four weeks after I met my neurosurgeon.

Only four long, scary, challenging weeks. I am trying as hard as I can to stay busy. I am playing my violin, I am reading. I still play with and watch the grandkids. I am visiting local farmers markets and keeping up with news.

None of that matters.

I wake up scared and I spend all day trying to distract myself.

But I feel stuck. I feel helpless and immobilized.

I am like a tiny bug, trapped within a drop of amber, frozen in time and place.

Waiting.

I am a very very patient Nonni and was a very patient teacher.

I am NOT a patient patient. Let’s get it done. I want that tumor out of there. I want it out NOW. I want it gone so I can begin the next phase of life, whatever it looks like. I am ready to be partially deaf. I am ready to be off balance and to have a slightly droopy smile, all of which is likely.

I just can’t stand the waiting. Sitting still in my bubble of amber, unable to move forward, unable to help myself.

Sigh.

Maybe I’ll check out some online sales.

Martinis On a Frozen Tongue


Photo by Zoran Borojevic on Unsplash

In an effort to comfort myself as I impatiently await surgery to take the acoustic neuroma out of my brain, I am attempting find humor in the situation.

Not easy.

“Oh, hahahaha! Funny, funny me! I was awake all night because of the incessant car horn that beeped every 15 seconds in my brain.” Nope.

“So let me tell you about how funny it is to carry a load of clothes downstairs without looking either up or down because you’ll fall if you do.” Old lady, falling downstairs. Nah, not that one, either.

H’m. How about a funny story of drinking a martini when you can’t feel a quarter of your tongue?

Here goes.

I like a martini now and again. Either a lemontini with fresh lemon or a good dirty martini with cheese-stuffed olives. Yum. I don’t indulge all that often, but given my new personal motto (“Leave me alone! I got a freakin’ brain tumor!”) I decided to have one the other night.

It was right after I made the epic mistake of googling “Recovering from acoustic neuroma”. I may have been the tiniest bit shaken by what I read. I may have been pacing around the living room looking for a distraction.

Or I may be a budding alcoholic looking for an excuse.

At any rate, I realized that, in the wise words of my dear departed father, “It’s five o’clock somewhere.” So I got out my shaker, the lemoncello, a lemon and a glass. Then I opened the freezer and pulled out the bottle of vodka that I always keep on ice. Old Russian trick, learned in my time in the Russian Department in college. Always keep your vodka icy.

I mixed up a super cold, super delicious, sweetly tart lemon martini and sat down on the deck to have a sip.

Now, I have to digress for a moment. Even though I am a mostly well-behaved old grandma, I have been known to overindulge in my wild youth. I mean, I WAS a Russian major, and we DID have a small freezer in our department office. A couple of shots between a literature class and a conversation class could make all the difference in fluency.

And after college, I worked for a couple of years as a Russian interpreter in Boston. Once an immigrant family had settled into their new home, they would have a little dinner party to thank the American social worker who had helped. I served as an interpreter at dozens of these dinners (lucky, lucky me….Oh, man, the borscht, the blini, the pelmenyi).

The conversation would go like this:

Russian raises a glass with a shot of vodka: “Many thanks to our wonderful American hosts! We can never repay you!” I interpret into English. We drink.

American social worker raises another shot: “Welcome to our country! We are lucky to have you!” I put this into Russian. We drink.

This could go on for 15 rounds before dinner is served. I am not sure of how accurate some of the later interpretations were, but nobody cared because nobody was clear enough to notice if it didn’t make sense.

At any rate, I learned rather quickly to slow down, to drink water, to keep talking and stop drinking when I noticed a few things. The first sign of complete inebriation was the tip of my nose feeling tingly and numb. The next warning sign was when my tongue tip turned numb. It would sort of feel like a big dose of Novacaine was wearing off. Itchy, numb, tingly.

I haven’t had this happen in years, I swear. I am old now. I am a good girl.

But the other day, as I took my first sip of ice-cold therapy, I realized that both the right side of my nose and the right side of my tongue tip are already numb, itchy and tingly. So is my cheeck. And the right side of both lips. And part of my right eyelid.

In fact, I feel like I have simultaneously been socked in the cheekbone and put on Novacaine. Alll day and all night. And it will be like that for at least another month, as I wait for my surgery date.

It was a rude awakening, for sure. It was so upsetting that I almost didn’t want the martini. But I don’t like to waste. So I drank it.

The second was better. By the third, both sides of my face were numb and I felt so much better!

Did you laugh?

Advice to Doctors


As if I’m qualified……

Photo by Sasun Bughdaryan on Unsplash

This may seem counterintuitive, but it is a message I’d really like to send to every doctor/surgeon/med student in the world.

You guys have read this already, but I have developed a benign tumor on my right acoustic nerve. It is called an “Acoustic neuroma” or a “Schwannoma”. Either way doesn’t that sound wicked scary?????

Well, it did to me. I have lost some hearing in one ear. I am off balance and walking like a drunken sailor even when I am neither. My lower lip is numb on the right side and my tongue tip is itchy and numb. I have a TUMOR on my freakin’ BRAIN.

I have not been the epitome of grace and acceptance. No. I have been the epitome of “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”

Now, I will be honest. It isn’t that I am thinking “why me?” Not at all. I am the luckiest human being that I have ever even heard of. Literally everything has gone my way. For my entire life. I have no right and no reason to ask “Why me?”

But I have been asking, “What horrible tortures are going to happen to me?” I have done the unthinkable and checked Google for “Acoustic Neuromas”. I even joined a FB group of “Acoustic Neuroma Survivors”.

Bad ideas. Bad, bad ideas. All full of “I am worse now than I was before surgery!” and “My surgery lasted 15 hours and I was in the hospital for 2 weeks!”

I got scared.

I got really scared. I am not a sick person. I do not do the hospital/surgery/recovery thing.

I’m NONNI, dammit! I play with kids! I cook! I do finger painting and cookie baking and block building and bike riding! I am NONNI!

So.

We drove into Boston this morning to meet the neurosurgeon who works with my chosen ENT surgeon. We parked in the garage. We noted where our car was parked (3D!). We followed the sign that said “EXIT”. We came to a wall. We went back up. We followed another sign that said “EXIT”. We came to a door marked “Emergency Exit ONLY!” We looked at each other. We went back up the stairs. We searched. We looked around.

At last, at last, we found our way out of the parking garage and onto a HUGE city street. Filled with cars and trucks and people and noise and stuff.

It took us almost a half hour to meander our way to the correct corridor in the correct building of the correct Boston hospital. We checked in and filled out papers and tried to relax.

And this is where my advice to doctors comes in.

After short wait, we were taken in to meet with my neurosurgeon. That man who would, theoretically, be drilling into my skull in the next few weeks.

He was kind, friendly, accessible, and open. All good. He ran through my various options, from “Let’s just wait and see” to a non-invasive gamma knife treatment, to the plain old “slice up your skull and dig out the tumor” scalpel surgery.

I already knew that I preferred the surgery, and when our conversation was finished, it was very clear that he agreed. As my ENT surgeon had agreed earlier.

I left the office feeling much calmer and more reassured than I’d been in many weeks. And you want to know why?

It wasn’t because he agreed on surgery. It wasn’t because he was very thorough, and spent as much time as I needed to review my MRI and CT scans. It wasn’t even because he’s the chief of Head and Neck Surgery at one of the best hospitals in the country.

Nope.

It was because he was remarkably unimpressed with my situation. It was almost a big yawn for him. It was unremarkable and unimpressive and I am certain that tonight when his wife asks about his day, I will not come to mind for a second.

So that is my advice to young medical professionals today. Be unimpressed. Be ever so slightly bored with your patient’s scary crisis.

For me, at least, this was the most reassuring message I could have possibly received.

Feeling Mortal


Nothing like upcoming brain surgery to keep a person humble.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

My, what an interesting place to find myself on this journey of life.

I think I have mentioned that I have a benign tumor on my right acoustic nerve. It’s called an acoustic neuroma. It’s pretty rare, as it happens in about 1 in 100,000 people in the US annually. Lucky me!

Because I am always worried about how my reactions will impact other people, I have been working very hard to stay calm since my diagnosis in April. It wasn’t hard, actually, because I don’t have a lot of symptoms, and it was easy to pretend it wasn’t there. Sure, I have lost about half of the hearing in my right ear, but that can be alleviated by sitting to the left of my friends. I am off-balance, but as a clumsy, chubby old lady, that hasn’t been so hard to deal with, either.

I have made my doctor’s appointments, gone to my CT and MRI scans, talked with audiologists, ENT specialists and PTs. Calm, on top of things, that’s been me.

“Oh, don’t worry,” I’ve said to my kids. “It isn’t cancer.”

But.

I am now two days away from meeting “my” neurosurgeon. And at odd moments in the day, I think, “Wait, I have a NEUROSURGEON??????” I have researched the upcoming procedure and have talked to my ENT. And I know that I have to go into a Boston hospital (only 1 1/2 hours away, but it feels like a foreign land). I will undergo roughly 8 hours of “microsurgery” through the bone behind my ear. When I wake up in the ICU, I will be dizzy, nauseous and in pain.

I’ll have to stay in there, far from home, for about 4-5 days. I may not be able to walk without assistance for a few weeks. I may not be able to drive for months. I will lose all of the hearing my right ear,, becoming totally deaf on that side.

I have been a singer with various local choirs for years. I love to sing. I am learning to play the violin and have made a lot of progress. I am a speech pathologist; I live by the auditory world. All of that feels threatened now.

None of this is life-threatening. I should be much calmer. I know two young, brave moms who are facing life-threatening cancer. I have a brother undergoing cancer treatments and a nephew undergoing years of treatment for leukemia.

But I am realizing something this week:

I do not know how to be that brave.

I’m afraid of being unconscious for a whole day. I’m afraid of being out of control. I’m afraid of the pain and the weakness. I am terribly afraid of who is going to come home from the hospital.

None of this feels like “me”.

I want to get up in some strange public place and shout out, “Wait!!!!! I can’t have brain surgery! I’m Nonni!”

Mostly, I am so terribly afraid that I won’t be strong or stable enough to take care of my sweet baby Max. I am so terribly afraid that after I have this surgery, I won’t be me. I won’t be myself.

All of this has me thinking about life. And about death. About what is really important.

I feel so mortal.

I am sad, too, that I’m going through my first medical crisis without my Mommy. Sure, I’m 66! I’m gray-haired. I’m a grandma! But as I try to be brave about the scariest thing I’ve ever faced, I I still wish that had my Mom to tell me it will all be OK.

If any of you have been through acoustic neuroma surgery, can you let me know how it went???

Renewing My Gardening Life


Thanks to a wonderful young man, I am back.

My wild “multiflora roses”.

I think the first time I put my hands in the dirt to grow a flower, I was 19 years old. I turned some soil, put in some seeds and enjoyed an entire summer of beautiful morning glories growing up the backyard fence.

I tried to turn hard city clay into a garden in our first apartment but had little success. Gradually, over the years, I learned about composting and aerating and the importance of using native plants. I became a joyful gardener in my mid-thirties, when we bought this house in the country. The house came with a big yard, a ton of trees, and not much else.

Slowly, painstakingly, I added some perennials and some flowering bushes. A few tiger lilies from my parents’ house soon turned into hundreds of them growing in garden beds, in a little “flower fence” and in the woods where I threw the ones I thinned out. A couple of small, scrawny rhododendron slowly turned into three magnificent specimens that are now far too large to prune.

The tiniest stick of a little lilac, given to us by good friends, is now the grandparent of no fewer than five full-grown bushes.

I love my yard.

It is overgrown, filled with “volunteers” like the tall phlox and wild columbine that grace us every year. I love it because it is untamed and wild. It isn’t trimmed to within an inch of it’s life and it is the happy home to hundreds of rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, moles, voles and more birds than I can begin to identify.

I love it.

But I can no longer take care of it all the way that it needs to be nurtured. My muscles are weak or achy or both. My shoulder has bursitis. My hands are arthritic and the combination of age, Fibromyalgia and a crazy tumor on my acoustic nerve have rendered me fairly useless in the garden.

And that fact has saddened me more than I can say. I walk outside and look at the overgrown clumps of tiger lilies, the unkempt groups of fox tails, and ever-spreading evening primrose. Instead of feeling the call to get my hands in the dirt that I have felt for decades, I feel instead a call to make a cup of tea, settle in the rocker and feel badly about myself.

In the face of all of this gardening chaos, I broke down and followed my husband’s suggestion. “Let’s hire a teenager to do some of this,” he said, not realizing that I would take that comment like a blow to the heart. Too old to garden, I thought. Too old to take care of my own flowers.

So I reluctantly put out an inquiry on my local social media page. Most of the responses were from professional landscapers, who were simply out of our price range. I waited, hoping for some kind soul to recognize my pain and come to my rescue.

And he did.

As so often happens in my life, my rescuer comes in the form of a child. An almost grown child, but a child. At the tender age of 13, my young helper, whose name is Marcello, has not only eased the heavy burden of dealing with the yard, but he has also reignited my belief that I CAN still do it, as long as I have some help.

Marcello and I spent two hours together today, pruning and trimming and digging up hopelessly overgrown tiger lilies. We chatted, we joked, we worked side by side. To be honest, I spent most of the time giving directions, and my young hero spent his time actually doing the work.

It was, for me, a truly uplifting day. I am so happy with the work that we did together! So happy with my beautiful yard again! And Marcello asked me such good questions that my inner teacher was thrilled. We talked about perennials and worms and composting and lilacs and school and teaching and technology.

I felt healthy while he was here, and that has become a rare pleasure.

Tonight my right arm hurts, my back is aching, my leg muscles are shaky. But as I stand here in my window, looking out at my gardens in the sunset, I am so pleased.

Hooray for young people. Hooray for their questions, their strength, their humor and their willingness to help.

If I have any hope for our country’s future, it is because of young people like Marcello, who probably doesn’t have an inkling of what is presence means to me.

My Mom LIED to Me


This is a terrible shock.

My Mom. So freakin’ gorgeous.

Well, I barely know how to go on. My Mom, my beloved, kind sweet MOM, whom I looked to for the most important guidance of my life….that woman actually and deliberately TOLD ME A LIE.

It was a bad one, too.

Sure, she raised me in safety and love. Sure, she fed us and kept us clean and entertained us. Yadayada.

She still LIED.

I remember it so very clearly. Mom and I were standing in the bathroom in the house where I grew up. I was looking in the mirror. I was HORRIFIED, I tell you, just HORRIFIED.

I think I was thirteen. I had big brown eyes and nice thick dark hair. I was, to be honest, kind of cute. But: I had my very first ZIT.

There it sat, right on my chin. Big, and red and ugly. How, I asked Mom in despair, how can I ever go to seventh grade tomorrow with THIS on my face?

It is hard to describe the panic and disgust that I felt as I stood looking at my horrifically deformed face?

My Mom, she of all wisdom and grace, put her hand on my shoulder. I remember her chuckling a bit, and telling me this:

“Don’t worry, honey. People have acne between the ages of 13 and 19. Then it’s all fine.”

Hahahahahahaha.

Sure.

That was true for HER. Her skin was perfect. Her hair was perfect. Her freakin’ fingernails were perfect. She probably had two zits in her entire life.

I, alas, was not so lucky. I remember trying desperately to pop a zit on my cheek when I was about 16. I failed. I was left with a HUGE, red, pulsating, crater on my face. I tried to cover it with makeup, but I remember that when my family arrived at my Grandparents’ house, my Grampa took one look at me and asked, in his Italian accent, “What happened? Did a cat scratch you?”

I have yet to live that moment down with my sister.

So.

Here I am. I am sixty-six years old. My mom died in November, and I am still missing her every day.

This morning I went into the bathroom, and looked in the mirror.

WHAT THE ABSOLUTE FUCK IS ON MY FACE?
There it was, right next to the wrinkles, the dry spots and the gray hair. A giant, pulsing, red ZIT.

I am old. I have arthritis and fibromyalgia and back pain and not one, but two brain tumors. All of that sucks, but not as much as HAVING A GIANT ZIT AT 66!!!!

I am enraged. I am furious.

Mom said they’d go away at the age of NINETEEN!!!!

I am not happy.

Can you seriously be in the hospital for your old lady brain disorder and have a young intern say, “You know, I have something for that huge zit.”?

Gah.

Even When You’re Super Lucky, You Can Still Be Sad


I know, I know, I have to right to this feeling, but here it is.

Well, here we are. On the cusp of summer. A time of relief, a time of freedom, a time of joy for every teacher on earth and almost every kid.

Wahoo.

But I’m not feeling wahoo.

I know. I have absolutely no right to this feeling that is pulling me down like an anchor into the deep. I have been the luckiest grandmother I have ever met. I say that in all seriousness and all honesty. I have pinched myself a million times over the past seven years.

When I was pushed out of teaching, I stepped right into the most wonderful role in the world. I became the primary daycare provider for my grandchildren.

I am so lucky!

So why am I fighting off tears this week?

Well, I guess because all good things come to an end. And because my last go-round with the empty nest resulted in a whole lot of sadness, grief, reinventing and a fair amount of disbelief.

Tomorrow will be the last time I will be Johnny’s caregiver. He has delighted in twice-a-week preschool and is off to conquer the world of kindergarten next fall. He is more than ready. In spite of his nerves, he is eager to head off to school every day with his Mom, who teaches at his school, and his sister who will be entering the second grade.

My heart is so heavy. How did this happen so fast?

I know, I know, I know. I am being ridiculous.

I have friends who would love grandchildren but don’t have them yet. I have friends with grandchildren across the country or across the globe. I know too many people who are estranged from their children and don’t know those beautiful grandkids. And I have friends who have suffered real grief, true grief, as they have lost their children.

So I promise, I am not whining. I know, I know, I believe that my luck and my blessings are far more than I deserve or have earned.

But.

Tomorrow will be the last time that Johnny will come in for breakfast and ask for “all the cereal, all together, with milk!” We won’t have our daily game of hide n’ seek or Pirates. I will no longer sit beside him with a bowl of pretzels as he explains which guys are villains and which are good guys in his shows.

I think that this time it is harder for me. Ellie moved on to public school at the beginning of this year, but because of Covid, I got to see her progress through kindergarten online. I got a bonus year.

But as she went into first grade last September, I realized just how different our relationship would be. Sure, she still loves me and tells me that often. She asks to sleep over. But she isn’t that little needy girl anymore. She has her life, her friends, her preferences.

And that’s GOOD! As it should be.

But.

I don’t care that it’s good. Not deep, deep down in my heart. Down there, I want to go back to the days when she needed me because she couldn’t open a box, or because her nose was running or because she felt sad.

She went off to school and I miss her.

Next year, I will miss Johnny.

It is what it is, and it is as it should be, and I am so lucky and I feel like a fool.

But I am sad today. I do not have the many talents of so many of my retired friends who paint, and garden, travel, and refinish furniture. I have one great skill; I take care of kids.

I hope that next fall I will have Max here with me. Our funny, smart, goofy 2 year old Max. I so hope that he will be my charge for next year.

But there’s a medical issue that might make that difficult. I don’t know yet, and won’t know until mid-summer when I find out if I will need invasive surgery or non-invasive to deal with a benign tumor on my acoustic nerve. I feel like it’s all out of my hands, and that is a feeling that old Nonni here does NOT enjoy.

So.

Today I am sad.

I hope that my ridiculously good luck will hold for a bit longer and Max and I will spend next year playing, cooking, reading books and making decorations for various holidays.

But I am grieving, as silly as that sounds, because Johnny is flying from my nest.

I have tried to write this post at least 20 times, but my embarrassment has stopped me.

I am so lucky.

I know it.

But, wow, it is so hard to empty the nest again.

My Bunny Guru


Barney is his name; comfort is his game.

Image by the author

I live in a relatively rural place. It’s Massachusetts, so you know it isn’t all that wild. But for someone who grew up in Greater Boston and has lived, studied and worked right in the city, our part of the state is like living in the wilderness.

We have a big male black bear who cruises the neighborhood, and a gorgeous bobcat who peeks out once in a while. We have deer and foxes and turkeys and coyotes. There are more birds than you can begin to appreciate.

And for the past three years, for some reason, we have sweet little cottontail rabbits.

While these little guys used to be a rarity, these few years we have had one or two living right in the yard and sharing the dandelions with us.

This year’s bunny is named Barney. I don’t know why exactly, except that the alliteration must have appealed to my grandkids.

We first noticed Barney back in about February. The ground was frozen, and the earth was clumps of mud and dead leaves. We saw his tiny grey face one morning in the protective cover of a fallen pine tree. The kids and I watched his little twitching nose as he washed his face with one white paw. Then he squished himself back under the log.

I worried about him that night, as an icy rain fell. Silly, I know. I told myself that I worried because he was important to the kids. I didn’t want them to be sad. But I knew that wasn’t really it. I worried because he was so small, and fragile. He was alone in a cold, dangerous world. His innocence touched my heart and I imagined getting him safe and warm somehow.

Over the next few weeks, Barney would make an appearance some days as the sun set. He would hop along, carefully avoiding snow and ice clumps. I watched him chewing on dry oak leaves. I saw how he stood on his hand legs to carefully peel the bark of cherry saplings.

I started to leave him bits lettuce, carrot tops and celery leaves. He ate them, but never while I was watching.

He began to seem like a pet to me.

As the spring has come, Barney has grown considerably. He still lives under the fallen tree, but he spends time in a windfall of dead branches and hops between my rhododendron and forsythia, where he can hide when he feels scared.

With everything that is happening in this crazy world, Barney has become both a talisman and a mentor to me.

If I go two days without seeing him, I find myself up early peering out the windows. I feel responsible for him in a ridiculously inexplicable way. I am anxious when I don’t know that he has survived another night in the land of foxes and fishers and coyotes and cars.

But then I see him. My heart rate slows. I smile.

I often see Barney outside now. Right there on our front lawn, almost always with a dandelion stem in his mouth. He no longer accepts my offerings of food, and I laugh when I imagine his reaction to seeing them. “Great,” I imagine him thinking. “Dead, wilted, human scented, soap smelling green stuff. I live in a literal giant salad bowl full of clover and grass and leaves and shoots and dandelion stems. And she thinks I’m gonna eat THAT?”

Sometimes when I see him, I stand very still. He goes about his business with me there, chewing rapidly and fixing his shining black eye on my presence. I have noticed that he seems to have a good sense of social distancing. He is almost always about 6 feet away. If I take a step toward him, he takes a hop away.

The other day my little grandsons and I were out in the yard. We were admiring the millions of little Forget-me-nots that bloom all over. As we reached in to pick some, we saw that our Barney was sitting very still in the middle of a patch of flowers. He wasn’t moving at all. We stood there, admiring him, and making soft noises.

After a minute or two in which I guess he realized that we weren’t planning to eat him, Barney hopped, rather calmly, out of the flower bed and under a bush.

The kids were enchanted. I was inspired.

This is how I want to meet the challenges of my world. I want to go on calmly eating in the face of danger. I want to take my time to assess how real a threat it is that I am facing. I want the courage to calmly keep myself generally safe, while also having the confidence to live under my own fallen tree.

Barney, as far as I can tell, spends no time at all wondering if he should have done something differently. He doesn’t appear to be worried about tomorrow; unlike the chipmunks that race around here all day, he is not storing food for a later date.

Instead, he is soaking up the sun, eating what tastes best to him, avoiding disaster as long as possible and having a good bunny in the summer life.

He’s kinda my hero.

He’s also very very cute.

How Do We React to the Texas Shooting?


The terrible massacre in Texas is awful for all of us. But for some of us, for teachers like me, it is particularly horrifying.

I taught fifth grade for a decade. My babies were ten and eleven years old. Just like most of the little ones who were slaughtered in Uvalde. I was in charge of a class of kids when the Newtown massacre happened. I know, in the very depth of my soul, how innocent and how promising our children really are. I know too well how deeply they love and how intensely they hope.

Tonight we were watching the news. PBS had extensive coverage of the slaughter in Texas. We watched it all. But at the end of the show, they turned to a roll-call of the children who were murdered. I started to cry, of course. My loving husband stood up and went to the TV.

“Let’s turn it off” he suggested, worried about my emotional state.

Part of me agreed. How would it help to see this? How would my tears make anything better?

But then I caught myself.

“These precious little kids deserve to be fully mourned. They deserve my tears. My pain and sorrow is only a millionth of the pain their parents and grandparents are feeling at this moment.”

We left it on. We saw each sweet young face, each gently smiling child. We both cried, and we both felt awful.

As we should.

I am thinking, at this moment, that our entire nation is in desperate need of a huge, national day of mourning. We do NOT need any more moments of “silence”. Instead, we truly need many moments of rage. Moments of sorrow. Moments of regret.

We need an outpouring of national grief. The kind of deep, soul-shaking grief that is the only proper response to the brutal assassination of our children. We need to close everything down, for a day, or a week or a month. No more work. No more school. No more students sitting quietly at their desks.

No more.

Nothing.

We need to take to the streets and open our hearts and our mouths and we need to give voice to the terrible, terrible pain that we Americans are feeling.

“Stop!” We need to scream. “Stop!”

“You cannot keep slaughtering our children just because you want to play with guns! You cannot continue to make your desire to play soldier more important than our desire to raise our children in safety.”

We need to shout. We need to wail. We need to hold a huge, national, public day of sorrow and rage and we need to honor every single life that has been stolen in the name of pseudo macho bullshit.

I am here in my little house, on my couch, sobbing again. Thinking of those kids I taught and those kids whose lives are gone. I’m sobbing and mourning and thinking of the deep levels of terror and survivor guilt and complete confusion that will now envelope every single child who was in the building when the attack happened.

But it’s not enough.

I really, really think that we need a national day of mourning? grief? rage? sorrow? before schools reopen in September.

Anyone with me?